Janesville School district director was warned about behavior

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Frank Schultz
Thursday, July 5, 2012

— A high-ranking Janesville School District official who retired in March after a suspension was warned about her behavior as far back as 2004, according to school district documents.

Various employees accused Barb Hilliker of angry, inappropriate outbursts, and workers are described as “walking on eggshells” around her, according to school district documents obtained by The Gazette through the Wisconsin Open Records Law.

Hilliker recalled incidents differently, describing herself as calmly addressing issues in some incidents but admitting that she might have been too emotional at times.

None of the accusations involved interactions with or harm to students.

Hilliker was placed on “administrative suspension” with pay Feb. 13.

Hilliker was director of special education, a sensitive job that involves supervising therapists and teachers, myriad regulations about students with disabilities and the potential for damaging lawsuits.

Hilliker had worked in special education for the district for 32 years. She was promoted to coordinator of special education in 2000 and to director in 2009.

An incident in the hallway of the Educational Services Center in late January or early February led to Hilliker’s suspension and an investigation, according to the documents.

The Gazette received the documents last month. Many pages of the documents have information blacked out to protect identities of staff or students, as allowed by law.

Included in the documents are letters from Hilliker in which she defends herself.

The picture that emerges is of two Hillikers: One who was hard-working and handled some of the most difficult decisions in the district under stressful circumstances and another who cruelly berated staff members.

Workers were said to be afraid to meet with Hilliker.

“Others reported that they actually become physically ill when they are going to meet with Mrs. Hilliker,” the investigative report states.

Steve Sperry, director of administrative and human services, and Angel Tullar, manager of employee relations, wrote the report dated March 15.

Investigative findings

The investigators interviewed 23 employees. Twenty-two described negative experiences. Some told of Hilliker yelling at them. In some instances, the employee said Hilliker had made him or her cry.

One worker told investigators Hilliker “laid into” him or her for at least half an hour in August 2011 after the employee had scheduled a bus for a student. Hilliker was described as ranting about the cost of the bus while the worker was “bawling.”

The next day, it was found that the bus would not be needed.

“Barb did not apologize … for her behavior,” the report states.

Hilliker told investigators the meeting lasted only five to 10 minutes and that Hilliker addressed the situation calmly.

Hilliker was interviewed for the investigation and later supplied written responses. She “remembered most of the situations, yet her version of the account varies substantially from the other employee’s account,” the report states.

Hilliker wrote a six-page response dated May 15, saying that the district’s investigative reports did not tell the whole truth about what happened and did not give a complete picture of her work over the years.

‘Employees are sickened’

The investigative report recommended Hilliker’s employment be terminated. It noted Hilliker was warned for similar behaviors in 2004 and 2009.

“The responses Mrs. Hilliker has written to each of the incidents all fail to show she accepts responsibility for her own behavior,” the report states. “She has written about plans she has made to ensure that the situations do not repeat themselves but appears to have failed miserably at rehabilitation. In the meantime, our employees are sickened, frightened and applying for work in other districts.”

The investigative report references a 2004 incident, quoting a letter from Schulte to Hilliker: “Your temperamental outbursts will not be tolerated, whether it is toward someone in a higher position than your own such as a director or someone who you directly supervise such as a secretary. It is of the utmost importance that you have control over your feelings at all times.”

‘I love education’

Hilliker in several passages wrote that her job was stressful.

“I know that you do not like weakness in your staff and expect that we hold issues to ourselves without demonstrating frustration or stress,” Hilliker wrote in a March 20 letter to Schulte.

“I make every attempt to accept each new task that you assign even though I may already be on overload with the multiple tasks that are already part of our day-to-day work. I find that this can lead to times when I am more stressed than others, trying to meet all of the demands, which I suspect is interpreted by some as me being angry or not as communicative as other times.”

Hilliker said she always strived to put the best interests of students and the district first.

A letter March 23 from the district’s attorney, Mike Julka, states Hilliker had decided to retire, effective March 31. The letter says Hilliker would be paid through the end of March, would receive a tuition reimbursement of $4,300. She had been taking courses toward a doctoral degree.

Among other conditions of her retirement: “Ms. Hilliker’s personnel file record will have any negative performance documents removed and placed in a separate file.”

Hilliker was asked to comment for this story. She said the letters she had written with the help of an attorney were her best response.

Asked if she had sought work elsewhere, she said: “I love education. I love it. I love everything about it. I loved my job. If there’s something out there for me, I’ll keep my ears and eyes open for anything that will suit me and be appropriate for my skills.”

Yolanda Cargile, assistant director of at-risk and multicultural programs, along with Schulte, have been handling Hilliker’s duties.

Schulte plans a restructuring that would promote Cargile to director of student services and to hire someone to handle special education.

Last updated: 5:01 pm Tuesday, August 27, 2013

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